With the script, in this genre, obviously dramatic choices are made. During the filming, did you feel at any stage that this need/desire to make a balance, or to humanise, was too much?
Well, I think, you know balance is an interesting word. Our starting point was we've got two families, fictional families, inspired by real families through research, and we want to follow the story through, from their perspective, emotionally.We were adamant that the events, the backdrop if you like, were portrayed as accurately as we could establish took place. What happens to these families is obviously driven by the dictates of fiction – once you've made the decision about the little girl, the single mom, the uncle, an older brother who slips out at night – then, that has its own internal logic. I think what's hard is that Protestantism in the north since the Good Friday agreement clearly feels under huge threat – that's pretty much a fact. A bit like the days with Apartheid and the white community just after the handover of power felt, and I'm sure still feels, in South Africa. If you've grown up with a certain set of social privileges that you take for granted, and those privileges are taken away you feel aggrieved – anyone would, you know. I'm not trying, nor did we try, to justify what happened, but we did try to get under the skin, for those two families, of what happened and what it was like to be in that world. The advantage of drama is that you can do that, you can tell a complex story. Often people don't like complex stories because they're difficult to get your head around, but I think they become closer to the truth.
In the film, it's subtle, but it seemed to me that the Catholic community was portrayed as neater, and more prosperous. The Protestant homes however were portrayed as run down, and derelict. There seemed to be a clear decision to portray the Catholics as prosperous, and the Protestants as economically deprived?
Well, that was a concious choice, and was based on reality – from our research. The people in the Glenbryn community, for whatever reasons, are more economically deprived than those in the Ardoyne. It's not a huge difference, but I would contend that there is a difference. So we did want to reflect it in the film.
Possibly the scene that struck me the most, and caused me the most problems, was when the young protestant girl became trapped amidst the Police ranks, terrorised by events. It seemed to me a decision here was made to equate the experiences of the young children on both sides of the divide. I would have to say though – hang on – the experience isn't the same. The children on the Protestant side weren't subjected to stone throwing, abuse, and balloons full of piss
You've probably put your finger on arguably the most difficult set of decisions. Emotionally it's a powerful scene – a young girl, seperated from her mother, and traumatised in tha
t way. What inspired that? Well, during the newsrushes at the time, there was an interview for example with a dad who said “My fifteen year old lad has just been beaten up badly by the police, but you (the media) don't talk about that”. So there were clear instances of Glenbryn kids that had been very clearly traumatised by the events in clashes with the police, and so we wanted to show that someway.
But at the same time, as is shown in the film – and without seeking to justify or condone police brutality – very often in these events 15 year old lads from both sides are protagonists. It's a very different dramatic choice to portray a young girl.
There were stories of old people, young children who got caught up in the events as well – though I haven't got chapter and verse on it, that went completely unreported. But you know, I think the most difficult thing in the film was trying to plot the journey. There were many women protesting, a lot of women were involved in the protest if you look at the news rushes – which we did a lot. It's shocking – these women hurling abuse, more so than the men. So the most difficult thing for us was trying to plot Sara (the mother on the Protestant side)'s journey, how does she come to do what she did, to take part in that line. So I suppose, also emotionally that scene is a key part in her journey, now …you're absolutely right – it's a choice and it's something that clearly drove her to take her decisions. What we tried to do was make space for ourselves. There's this genre called dramadocs – and I suppose this film falls into this genre, which is quite a confused genre, you have to be clear about what's real and what's not. We were very clear, initially we discussed whether we should say it's based on a true story, and we were very clear that we couldn't say that it's based on a true story. The story is set in real events, and is the story of two fictional families – so we created a certain licence for ourselves in doing that, and it's important because otherwise what you get into is..(pauses)
There are so many human rights films, let's take Bloody Sunday for example, by Paul Greengrass – a very good film. I admire it as a piece of work on one level, in terms of its direction, in other ways I don't admire it and I'll tell you why. It's a pretty black and white story – you've got the British army who are the baddies, and the civilians in Derry who are the victims. Now, don't misunderstand me, from what I know of what happened in Derry that day, that is what happened, it's a fictional representation of what factually took place that day. But in terms of drama, there's one British officer who has qualms about what's taking place, but that's pretty much it. As drama or fiction I find it unsatisfying, because you're not challenged as a consumer of drama to think about why things happened. That's not to say I think films like it shouldn't be made, but personally I find films that force me to think, and to change my view about things that happened more satifsying. That's often the problem with human rights films.